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close this bookCERES No. 072 (FAO Ceres, 1979, 50 p.)
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Island economies: do they merit special support?

- incomes above average

Among the many resolutions adopted by UNCTAD V at Manila was one calling for special assistance to islands, because of their special problems. It asks that exports, particularly, be prompted, to counterbalance limited national outlets.

We must face facts when it comes to foreign trade: rich countries, in relation to their population, corner a large share of the world's trade, while the poorer countries participate to a very limited degree. But how do non-island countries compare here? For example, if Cape Verde, with 0.75 per 10000 of the world's population, has only 0.36% of imports and 0.02 of exports, Guinea-Bissau, its continental neighbour, has 2.24 for its population figure, 0.37 for imports and 0.05 for exports. Here, all we can deduce is that since both countries attained independence only very recently, they are not, as yet, greatly interested in world trade. For development takes time, in these sectors as well as in others. The fact that one country consists of a group of islands, while the other forms part of a continent, does not seem to have made a great deal of difference.

Taking a look at the right-hand column, however, we can see immediately that the biggest balances belong to two major oil-producing countries (Bahrain and Indonesia), while all the rest are, to varying degrees, importers. Island countries are obviously not the only countries to fall into the latter category. Commodity balances, we find, are all very similar to those listed here.

Finally, if we compare column totals with world averages, we see that an islander earns $2430 per annum, compared to the average world figure of $1 696.5 per caput per annum, and that with 10.3 percent of the world's population, island countries account for 16.1 percent of world imports and 15.7 percent of exports. The total balance, which shows a slight deficit, only reflects a geographical fact; none of the major oil-exporting countries, with these two exceptions, is an island.

What we are trying to point out, of course, is not that island countries should be refused aid, but simply that continental countries do not seem to have been more favoured by nature, in terms of income and foreign trade.